The financial wisdom of Fight Club

by Paul Michael on 30 June 2008 65 comments

“The first rule of Fight Club – We Do Not Talk About Fight Club.” Everyone who’s seen the movie remembers that. But what about something Tyler Durden, the anarchist extraordinaire, said very early on in the movie? It’s something profound that stuck with me from the second I saw it in the movie theater to this very day. And I think it should stick with you, too.

For those of you who haven’t seen Fight Club (please see it), or read the excellent Chuck Palahniuk book, I won’t put any major spoilers in this article. But to set the scene, at the beginning of the film Edward Norton’s character, Jack, loses everything he owns in an explosion at his home. The conversation that follows with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a colorful free spirit he met on a plane prior to the incident, goes like this (excuse the language, it’s a direct lift from the screenplay):

JACK: There's always that. I don't know, it's just...when you buy furniture, you tell yourself: that's it, that's the last sofa I'm gonna need. No matter what else happens, I've got that sofa problem handled. I had it all. I had a stereo that was very decent, a wardrobe that was getting very respectable. I was so close to being complete.

TYLER: S**t, man, now it's all gone.

JACK: All gone.

TYLER: Do you know what a duvet it?

JACK: Comforter.

TYLER: It's a blanket, just a blanket. Now why guys like you and I know what a duvet is? Is this essential to our survival? In the hunter-gathered sense of the word? No. What are we then?

JACK: You know, consumers.

TYLER: Right. We're consumers. We're by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty -- these things don't concern me. What concerns me is celebrity magazines, television with five hundred channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra.

JACK:Martha Stewart.

TYLER: F**k Martha Stewart. Martha's polishes on the brass of the Titanic. It's all going down, man! So f**k off, with your sofa units and your green stripe patterns. I say never be complete. I say stop being perfect. I say let's evolve and let the chips fall where they may. But that's me, I could be wrong, maybe it's a terrible tragedy.

JACK: No, it's just stuff.

TYLER: Well, you did lose a lot of versatile solutions for a modern life.

JACK: F**k, you're right.

Tyler offers Jack a cigarette.

JACK: No, I don't smoke. My insurance will probably cover it, so...

Tyler stares at him

JACK: What?

TYLER: The things you own, end up owning you.

Let me repeat that for dramatic effect; the things you own end up owning you.

The more I thought about that, the more it made perfect sense to me. It also made me think hard about the purchases I have made that have, in fact, ended up owning me.

The first is a no-brainer. My house owns me, no question. Even though I bought a home very much within my reach, my mortgage is still a substantial part of my monthly income. I figure, after taxes, I spend at least the first 10 days of every month just working to pay my mortgage. If I don’t pay it, we’re homeless, I face foreclosure and the risk of a huge black stain on my credit report.

Then there are the cars. Two of them. I don’t drive anything classy and super-expensive like a BMW or a Mercedes, but my humble VW Passat and my wife’s Pacifica still take another huge chunk of my salary. Again, defaulting on these loans means bad credit and, of course, no transportation.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

We also have credit card payments, most of the bulk of those came from transferring my UK student loans to US credit cards (the exchange rates and transfer fees were killing me). I don’t feel as bad about those. But anything else we put on a credit card in the past, from a simple CD to a piece of furniture, is now owning me until I pay it off.

What’s the solution then?
In Fight Club, Tyler Durden took lack of ownership to the extreme. He didn’t work (other than his gross soap sideline), he lived in a house that had been abandoned, he had no real possesions and he bought nothing other than food and clothing (and, well, ammo). For most of us, owning nothing is not really an option.

But what we can do is make a determination between wants and needs. Most of us need a car, but no one needs a $70k BMW. That’s a want, and unless you throw down cash, that BMW will own a part of you for roughly 3 to 7 years.

You need a place to live. But do you need a 6-bedroom, 4-car garage, media center home in 5000 square feet of luxury living? That, once again, is a want. And unless you’re Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, you won’t be bringing that kind of cold, hard cash to the table. For most of us, that decision is a 15 to 30 year commitment. And in that time, the house is owning you.

Even if you’re just thinking about slapping a fancy meal or a new DVD onto a credit card, think again. If you really want it (no one needs either, they’re wants) then ask yourself if you can pay cash, or use the debit card. You don’t need to be paying anywhere from 6% to 26% interest on either of those things.

It’s a fact of life that at least 95% of us will end up being owned by the things we have. It’s unavoidable. But just how much they own us, and for how long, that’s a decision we can all make.

Thanks Chuck Palahniuk and David Fincher for a great, great film. (Available to buy at Amazon if you just HAVE to have it...or rent it free from your library.)

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Guest's picture

It's so true that most of us grew up never questioning that the brand of tennis shoes, designer jeans, and even favorite bands, writers, and movies, etc., defines us. That's a tough habit to break. Especially when the retail/entertainment world has hired experts to keep us on that shopping treadmill. The lengths they go to are just frightening, as I wrote about at http://shanelyang.com/2008/05/02/why-we-buy-it-even-if-we-dont-need-it/

Love this post and love Fight Club! I also read all the other novels by Chuck except his latest book Snuff. I'll probably read that one, too, although the only review I've read of it so far is pretty harsh: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/08/books/review/Ellmann-t.html?_r=1&oref=...

Guest's picture
Kellye

While Chuck P. can be pretty gruesome and I could barely get through Haunted as it was, I have to automatically shun any reviewer who stupidly contrasts Mark Twain and Stephen King rather than comparing the two. Nobody can deny the King's got some serious literary talent, and I've been studying American contemporary literature for half a decade. He's only the most well-known writer on the face of the planet next to Jesus. Sounds pretty much like Mark Twain to me.

I loved this article, btw. This is my favorite quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, and I have it taped up in my office. :)

Guest's picture
Guest

"Stephen King is the most well-known writer on the face of the planet next to Jesus. Sounds pretty much like Mark Twain to me."

Jesus was not a writer.

The best-selling fiction writers of all time are Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, with over 2 billion sales each. Followed by (amongst others) Danielle Steel, Dr. Seuss, Leo Tolstoy, J.K. Rowling, Horatio Alger, R.L. Stine, and Pushkin. Stephen King trails behind all of them, with only 350 million sales.

Mark Twain trails even further behind with less than 100 million.

Guest's picture

Nice post. Fight Club is one of my favorites. I remember when it first came out - i was dealing with a bought of insomnia. Half way through my friend leaned over to me and whispered "youve gotta start sleeping, or this is going to happen to you." haha. But i totally get that "things you own..." I gained the sense that i was doing pretty good when last winter i was woken up at 3am by my condo's buildings fire alarm. Once the confusion wore off i grabbed my purse, threw my external hardrive in it and picked up my cat. I left the place not worrying about one article of clothing or stick of furniture. I got my data and my cat, im good to go. ;)

Guest's picture

oh and fyi - the fire on the 7th floor was put out and after 45 minutes of standing out in the street with my neighbors we all went back to bed.

Guest's picture
Guest

Sorry, but you treated your cocaine addiction with a heroine one. Cats are the ultimate possessing thing. They survive on being possessed and feeded. And data, well, it is the new stuff.

Guest's picture
Sarah

Not to undermine the article, which is really good and raises some excellent points about consumerism, but didn't he essentially work for himself by making soap from lipo-ed fat?

Now I need to watch the movie again...

Paul Michael's picture

but he did kind of work for himself, although the money from the soap made from lipo fat went towards his terrorist activities. He wasn't a consumer in the real sense of the word, unless you count guns and C4.

Guest's picture
Daniel

Stuff. Is. The. Enemy. Dramatic, I know.

http://theartofzenliving.com/2008/04/the-tyranny-of-stuff/ is my take on it, and then this is my take on "The Story of Stuff", which is worth the 20 minutes it takes to watch many times over:

http://theartofzenliving.com/2008/06/the-story-of-stuff/

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree on the BMW (almost do) but I do also feel that always putting frugality ahead of everything else can lead to missing out on good fun which is essential too.

Guest's picture
Ginny

I once knew a woman who gave away everything she owned every couple of years. I asked her why, and she answered, "Because I stayed in a bad marriage for fear of losing my stuff. I don't want to be trapped by stuff ever again."

Guest's picture
Ginny

I once knew a woman who gave away everything she owned every couple of years. I asked her why, and she answered, "Because I stayed in a bad marriage for fear of losing my stuff. I don't want to be trapped by stuff ever again."

Guest's picture
Guest

I remember the first time I saw fight club and this scene really got me thinking but in the end I came to the conclusion that although this is quite interesting from a philosophical perspective, it would in no way affect my everyday behavior.

Firstly, regarding paying something with cash or debit upfront as opposed to loading up on debt. This makes perfect sense in that you are not committing yourself to an obligation which you have no guarantee of being able to fulfill. However to actually do this would be insane with most of the financing options we have available to us. As long as you can borrow at a lower rate than you can lend (either through savings or government bonds, or stocks after adjusting for risk) it doesn't make sense to pay for anything up front even if you can afford it. This can get a bit more complicated with floating rates but the basic principal still stands.

Secondly although I do admit that many of the luxuries in life ... hell most of the things I buy are not "necessary" in the most literal sense of the word, it doesn't mean that they do not increase my quality of life.

Lastly for those who are lucky enough to be pulling in the 6 or 7 figure incomes, why not spend a little more for the extras in life, what good is money when you're dead ? And although I in no way condone the following, it is an undeniable part of life. If you are a professional like a doctor/lawyer/banker, its expected that you dress a certain way, drive a certain type of car, live in a certain type of house, and act a certain way. If you don't, you'll find it a lot harder to succeed or get ahead.

While I am sure it would be possible to survive on a modest 10,000 dollar a year income, what type of life would this be ? It is because of wants that humans have been able to accomplish all that we have, want to have more things, want to experience more things, want to know more things. Lest we forget the other famous quote from the movie Wall Street "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind." - Gordon Gekko

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Barb

Do you really think that greed is good? I believe that we're programmed from an early age to want things: ever watch Saturday morning cartoons with your kids? Pay special attention to the advertisements.

'Stuff is cool. You need this, it will make you run faster, live better, it's fun, it's good for you, blah, blah, blah...'

It's a constant bombardment, and it's all around you. There's some disagreement about this number, but it's been estimated that the average person in the United States sees 3000 ads a day.

If someone tells you that you are stupid 3000 times in one day, in some small part of your mind you begin to believe it. It becomes part of you. Do you think ads work the same way?

I certainly do.

You don't need all this crap to be happy.

You just think that you do.

Guest's picture
Guest

"It's a constant bombardment, and it's all around you. There's some disagreement about this number, but it's been estimated that the average person in the United States sees 3000 ads a day."

Your comment reminds me of Aldous Huxley's essays in Brave New World: Revisited; specifically the essay on Hypnopaedia, which as you mentioned, is occurring constantly by way of advertisements.

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MB

I lived for a few years at 10K a year and a year or so on less than that. Less than 10K was not so much fun. 10K a year actually worked pretty nicely.

Later on, I read a book called "Deep Economy" that is about a number of topics and is a little hard to summarize. One of the themes is wealth and money, and that money cannot make us happier although we insist that it can. The author reports on a study that societies get happier with more money until you reach the 10k/person/year line. Any more money after that doesn't make people any happier.

It may be foolish to extrapolate the results from the societal to the individual level, but maybe not. My personal experience is that 10K is a level where a pleasant life exists.

Guest's picture
Benjamin

How can the author of the book say that 10K/person/year is the happiness point? Currency and its buying power fluctuates day to day. 10K today is not 10K a decade ago nor will it be the same a decade from now.

And a point to the Greed conversation. Greed is the extreme of desire. Greed is bad and the word was created with a connotation of evil. Greed is the desire for money or other things beyond the necessary amount. Greed cannot be fulfilled, therefore like a drug, greed will drive a person from good behavior to bad behavior in a push to fulfill his or her unfillable want.

Do not confuse Greed with Industry.

Guest's picture
Guest

Though I enjoy your rationalization, and do not begrudge you it. However, you are imprisoned by your fear.

I save nothing, have averaged about 20ish a year US my entire life, and have had a life so much better than yours that I doubt you could understand it.

I currently reside in Colombo Sri Lanka, make about a grand a month US teaching at a university, and suppliment it with the residue of 5 months at an architecture firm in New York last year and the minor proceeds from a bar I accidentally got interest in by doing some work 5 years ago.

I live in a nice 4 bedroom beach house, and spend my time mostly as I choose. It is no different from the mining concern I worked in Zambia, The monastery I built in tibet, or the months I spent watching a boat in the carribean.

I own nothing, live better than you, and generally kick the **** out of life every day.

Enjoy that Lexus, bitch, because if you think it makes you smart, experienced, or knowledgable; you deserve the pleasure of your little fantasy world.

Guest's picture
Guest

Seriously, you're a jackass.

"had a life so much better than yours that I doubt you could understand it."

"live better than you"

Sounds like you feel the need to justify just how awesome you are in your own private little fantasy world.

How about you learn that different people are happy doing different things? I guess your worldly travels haven't taught you that yet.

By the way, "saving nothing" and "owning nothing" will guarantee that when I am retired by 50 and jaunting around the planet, you'll still be working. Enjoy working until the day you die, "bitch."

Guest's picture
Guest

"Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind." - Gordon Gekko
---
Or, some my perceive this as a spiraling of mankind.

Guest's picture
Barb

Do you really think that greed is good? I believe that we're programmed from an early age to want things: ever watch Saturday morning cartoons with your kids? Pay special attention to the advertisements.

'Stuff is cool. You need this, it will make you run faster, live better, it's fun, it's good for you, blah, blah, blah...'

It's a constant bombardment, and it's all around you. There's some disagreement about this number, but it's been estimated that the average person in the United States sees 3000 ads a day.

If someone tells you that you are stupid 3000 times in one day, in some small part of your mind you begin to believe it. It becomes part of you. Do you think ads work the same way?

I certainly do.

You don't need all this crap to be happy.

You just think that you do.

* reply

Guest's picture
Guest

Of course greed is good. Greed is what separates mankind from animals. I'm not talking just about greed for material possessions, but knowledge, success, love, whatever. Greed is just wanting something a lot.

I don't think I need brand name clothes to be happy (and they don't), nor do I "need" a nice car to be happy (but it does). These things are the incentive for me to work harder, earn more money, be more successful. As long as what I'm doing isn't illegal then this would mean that I would become more and more useful to society, I would contribute more and more to the quality of life of OTHER people, by providing services, producing goods, etc.

What separates brand name clothes from medicine, or the internet, or TV, etc. I think we'd all agree that without medicine, mathematics, the internet, engineering, that life would be a lot worse than without. One may argue that brand name clothes don't accomplish the same thing, but all these things exist and will continue to exist because someone somewhere thinks that a Hugo Boss suit is worth $4000 or that Prada handbag $XXXXX (evidently I'm not one of them).

Just because something doesn't make sense to you doesn't make it wrong. The beauty of the free market is that it will weed out what is unnecessary on its own.

Guest's picture
NMZ

How can you say "Greed is what separates mankind from animals?"

Greed is programmed into every animals genes. Consumerism is fueled by a call to our most basic nature.

I own two dogs and a cat. Every watch animals protect food they have no intention of eating? A dog will gorge itself on food it does not want, just because it doesn't want another dog to get it. You can do funny things with animals involving pure greed.

Give the cat a fuzzy toy and watch a dog lose its mind in anger and jealousy over a toy it can't even use.

Greed is fundamental. Fight club was trying to transcend it.

Guest's picture
DivaJean

I think both Tyler Durden and Gordon Gekko are extremes and most of us find balance somewhere in the middle.

Interesting that financial advice can be found in the ramblings of the insane, however I am not about to live the ratty, crazy life of someone off their rocker because its cheaper.

Guest's picture
PaulT

Nice article, some good points raised and it's surprising how profound some things in that movie are if you think about them. But it's worth mentioning (spoiler alert!)

"In Fight Club, Tyler Durden took lack of ownership to the extreme."

In Fight Club, Tyler Durden was the figment of a paranoid schizophrenic's imagination. He didn't have kids, retirement or any of the other things that many of us require or acquire during our lives. Hell, he didn't even have to eat, sleep or drink.

Buy a house and a car, if you can pay them off before you hit old age they're great investments. The central message is vital to remember though: don't be a slave to consumerism.

Guest's picture
Drakman

Now here is some sage advise: Dont be extreme. Buy a house and a car. Take care of them. Pay them off. They are great investments in the long term.

Guest's picture
Guest

Whats your point? to me it sounds like your just having a whinge about having to pay back the bank for a loan. its called life man, get use to it. I too wish that i could have the house and car for no money, but youve got to live in reality.

Don't live your life by a single quote. Fight Club is not the be all and end all. The biggest irony of fight club the movie, is the scene of tyler durden on the bus pointing to a poster of a chiseled male model saying "is this what we are meant to look like?", knowing that Brad Pitt would have spend hours with a trainer at the gym to get ripped for the shirtless fight scenes. that for me was too much.

Your advice seems to be, when you want something, think if it will actually save your life, and if it doesn't don't buy it because its not needed. what a boring life.

You make it sound as though wanting things is a bad thing. What ever happened to enjoying life? Sure you don't need to eat a nice meal, but you do it because it's more enjoyable. LIFE IS MEANT TO BE ENJOYED!!

Guest's picture
Mara

The thing is: Brad Pitt had to get that ripped so Tyler Durden would look just how Jack has always wanted to look. The ultimate fantasy for almost every man. That body, that nonchalance, etc.

But still, it's a bit odd to think that 9 years ago Brad Pitt said things like: "We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

Still, great, great movie and actors.

Guest's picture
Guest

So, harden the F*** up but enjoy a nice meal?

Guest's picture
Guest

his name was not Jack...no name was given for the character in the film.

just wanted to point that out.

Guest's picture
Sara

Thank God someone else pointed that out. It was driving me crazy... but excellent point overall and ol' Chuck is always good for these sort of eye openers :)

Just as an FYI, I've had this argument before... the perception his character's name is Jack comes from the lines about the Reader's Digest articles, but he's not saying Jack literally as his name... it's just a play on the articles.

Paul Michael's picture

First, I really tried hard to avoid giving away the main points of the story, something which I'm afraid Paul T has done for you. Sorry about that. Second, I chose the name Jack as a way to try and keep that under wraps, too. If I had called his character The Narrator, as is credited in IMDB, then that would have been another big clue.

And finally, I am not saying that anyone needs to live their life as a hobo or buy nothing. But I think we're living in a society that defines our own self worth by how much 'stuff' we have. I watched the short film "The Story Of Stuff" last night (thanks Daniel), and it reminded me of just how much we're manipulated into being the rampant consumers we are.  I don't think I need to "harden up" by purchasing a car that keeps me a slave to the repayments. I don't think any of us do. 

Guest's picture
Guest

You are still missing the point somewhat.
The finacial burden is not the reason why "the things you own end up owning you"

The actual reason is that the detritus that you value, the "stuff" that you rely on, the car you drive the fridge you store your food in and the mobiole phone in your pocket.... anything you value has a hold on what you do with your life.

It's not about money. It's about how you feel that you have to look after your car and have a phone that suits your lifestyle.
You wouldn't just dump your car and being torn away from your phone is almost as painful as birth.

and there it is. Shedding all these things you feel responsible is like being born a free person. yes society asks where you are and asks you to pay for it, that is hard to escape.
But to burden yourself with kitchenware that all matches and the assosiated looking after it etc etc etc that is true madness. so well done, but stop and rethink..... it's more than debt owning you. You let inanimate objects hold responsibility over you.

Fungacide

Paul Michael's picture

There's a guy at work who is terrified of getting a dent in his Audi. He goes out of his way to park it in a remote spot. The guy who drives the old beater has no worries. Definitely a further extension of the thought.

Guest's picture
Mama L

"The Story of Stuff" is great - pass it on!

We consumers have totally bought the idea that, if we have the money, why not spend it? Why not "enjoy life"? What harm is a nice car? A nicer home? Doesn't hurt anybody, right? Well, it doesn't hurt anyone we know...just those anonymous people who get clobbered in the process.

(Oh, and for the record, giving up the phone not at all like giving birth. Yeah, not even close. Take the dang phone, please.)

Loved the article. Keep 'em coming!

Guest's picture
Debbie M

It's interesting how emotional people are getting. I think it's actually okay for some of our stuff to own us if that stuff is important to us. Where we go wrong is letting things that we don't care about own us. Or perhaps in caring about things that don't significantly improve our lives.

I admit that I liked the look of Gordon's place (wan't it all IKEA stuff?).

Guest's picture
Guest

Considering the cost of land in Sri Lanka and the conversion rate between the U.S. dollar and the Sri Lanka rupee, I don't doubt that you can have an amazing life making $20k in Sri Lanka.

Live in the real world man. No one can support a family of four on $20k and live a comfortable, enjoyable life. Yes, it is possible to support a family on this, but it will not be a high quality of life.

Guest's picture
Edward

I agree with what you're saying here, but Tyler meant more than, "Your credit card and mortgage control your life." He meant that, instead of really wanting something, we've been brainwashed into thinking we do. Instead of thinking, "Hey, I really need something to rest my glasses on," we think, "Oh, that coffee table looks so cool, I just have to have it." We think we own that coffee table, but in reality, it made us buy it; it attracted our attention; it said, "Buy me now!" and we did. So it owns us.

Oh, and also, the narrator's name isn't Jack, unless the book tells you it is. I've only seen the movie, but Jack was just the name the narrator got from those stories written by organs in the first person. "Jack's colon," "Jill's nipples," etc. The narrator's name is just narrator, at least in the film.

Guest's picture
Kelja

Get over it. Greed is not a human trait, it's programmed in all living creatures. When things are abundant, all living creatures take advantage. When things are scarce, creatures show their fangs and claws. In other words, greed serves an important purpose. Greed is also known by "taking advantage of an opportunity".

Certainly modern man is overly materialistic, but this is so only because we can. Our ancestors were not so different. Think of some of the Indian tribes of the American Plains before the horse, before the white man. They would start the entire plain on fire to kill animals to eat. Or, would intentionally stampede herds of buffalo over cliffs killing hundreds of animals. The notion of the noble savage as being environmentally correct is a myth.

My point really is this is all part of nature. We are part of nature. Hard to fight inborn instinct.

I find it funny that some think humankind is so divorced from the animals - so above it all. Similarly, westerners think they are so separate from the rest of the world - so above it. We are about to find we are not so different.

We are headed into a very dangerous time, a time when resources are scarce. As a result, don't expect society to stay polite. Within everyone of us is a beast ready to rip each other apart when things become dire.

We in the Western world have had it pretty good for so long only the oldest among us have a memory of really hard times.

Guest's picture
Expired

"Get over it. Greed is not a human trait, it's programmed in all living creatures. When things are abundant, all living creatures take advantage. When things are scarce, creatures show their fangs and claws. In other words, greed serves an important purpose. Greed is also known by "taking advantage of an opportunity"."
I don't think you know the definition of greed, so I'll help you out.
Greed- An excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.

Greed isn't "taking advantage", greedy people and opportunists aren't the same.

I also don't see how you can compare an animal in the wild to a human. We have completely different mindsets and amounts of knowledge. I highly doubt an animal can live in excess when all it is worried about is food, territory, and reproducing. I guess I'll go into to detail giving Lions as an example, and show you that nothing they do involves greed.

When a pack of lions see another animal, they look at it as food and that they might not see more food for a while. Whether it be an Elephant or Gazelle, they aren't thinking about how much they need to survive, only that they need food to survive. Once the animal is killed, the largest male eats first, if any other lion try's to eat he bears his teeth and roars. Why?? Not because he is greedy, but because they live in a despotic hierarchy, he eats first and then the others come next. After they have eaten they'll probably layout under some bushes, and relax with a full stomach. You then see several animals pass by without care, because they know that the lions aren't greedy. They don't take what they don't need.

Thus animals are not greedy, they are survivalists.
Humans?? I believe they are the only animal on this planet that exhibits greed.

"Certainly modern man is overly materialistic, but this is so only because we can. Our ancestors were not so different. Think of some of the Indian tribes of the American Plains before the horse, before the white man. They would start the entire plain on fire to kill animals to eat. Or, would intentionally stampede herds of buffalo over cliffs killing hundreds of animals. The notion of the noble savage as being environmentally correct is a myth."
American Indians were survivalists as well. They killed for food, not for pleasure or fun. If they killed an animal they used every part they could, whereas if we killed in animal, it would probably be just for it's pearly white tusks or teeth. They used the hides for shelter and to keep warm, the bones for weapons and tools, then they dried the meat for later consumption. If they drove several buffalo off a cliff, it was probably because they hadn't seen food in a while and wanted to get all the meat they could for a later date.

"I own two dogs and a cat. Every watch animals protect food they have no intention of eating? A dog will gorge itself on food it does not want, just because it doesn't want another dog to get it. You can do funny things with animals involving pure greed."
They protect that food because to them, it is their property. Perhaps they are saving it for later because they aren't hungry at the time?? Perhaps they don't know when their next meal will be, so they over eat to offset their hunger later. You're turning basic animal instincts into something they aren't just to benefit your ideas. It isn't greed, it's something completely different, the need/want to survive.

I guarantee you that if you fed your dog consistently that it wouldn't growl at other dogs over food, growling over territory is a whole other story though.

d[-_-]b

Guest's picture

And I agree Paul. I am perfectly happy earning barely $15,000 a year. But I also know that I am happier, or less stressed out, when I don't have huge bills hanging over my head. Like credit card bills, or a mortgage, or a car payment.

When I spend money, I pay in cash because I don't want to get myself in a position where I owe someone massive amounts of money. The stuff I'm paying off may not own me ... but the people that I owe money to own my peace of mind.

Guest's picture

what if you were told you had to leave your home and take only what you could carry (or fit in your car). Your community would be destroyed and everything you know to be true would end.

What would you take?
It happens.
Zombie Repellent

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Remember that there are still thousands of normal people still living in FEMA trailers after having had their entire lives wiped away. They are living that life you describe, and I'm sure they wish they had their stuff back, or their homes back.
Mike Adkinson

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Kelja

Mike,

What you state is true, although I'm not sure of the numbers. What a sad lot of people still holed up in a FEMA trailer! These people are either plain stupid or ignorant. I would've got my butt out of a trailer a long time ago. No, scratch that - I would've never ended up in a government trailer!

This is what happens when people rely on government to solve problems rather than do it themselves.

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Neil

I agree that getting yourself into excessive amount of debt for 'wants' is a way of enslaving yourself. (Incidentally, there's actually a TV ad for a car that ends with the line 'makes you think who's in charge of this relationship?' ) If you can't do what you want to do in your life because 'you have to pay the bills' then you're a slave. (I know it's different if you have a family).

Like some people have already pointed out you can take this idea a bit further. A lot of people actually identify with material goods. For example they think that people will look down on them if they wear non-fashionable clothes, or they don't have an up to date mobile phone. If you've ever felt embarrassed about having an old car / phone / laptop / computer then on some level you have tied in your sense of self worth into the material possessions you 'own'.

Some people take this to the extreme where they literally lose their whole reason for being when they lose their wealth. This is what happens to those stock brokers who throw themselves off the top of tall buildings when they lose a lot of money. No money = sense of self worth = might as well kill myself.

Also the whole idea of putting everything on credit has been going on on a larger scale over the past decades... have you heard of the Credit Crunch? :)

As for the people who say greed is good? Tell that to all the millions of people that have to cope with higher food and fuel costs because of the speculation on the oil market. (It's a speculation bubble just like the house prices)

Finally... remember the 'solution' at the end of the movie? They blew up the credit card companies. I'm not advocating terrorism of course. Anyway the banks have dug their own graves... if you owe the bank $10,000 you have a problem. If you owe the bank $100,000 they have a problem.

British Household Debt is biggest in History:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2008/06/28/cndebt...

IMF to investigate American Financial System

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,562291,00.html

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Guest

Taking a lesson from the book "The Millionaire Next Door", I ruthlessly control consumption costs to free up cash flow.

I try to live like my parents or grandparents' generation did.

My house is 1/4 the size of the house where I grew up (in the past, plenty of families have lived just fine in 1,000 sqft. houses)

My interior furnishings are mostly hand-me-downs from dead relatives, along with some dorm room leftovers.

I don't finance any consumer purchase - I use credit cards to avoid carrying cash or a checkbook, but they never accrue interest.

Another strategy is to avoid "high-consumption" professions - most physicians/lawyers/bankers make modest wages compared to what they spend on their lifestyle.

My income may be modest, but not my net worth.

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Guest

yeah ... makes plenty of sense ...

what's the point of having money if you're not going to use it

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NMZ

Comfort and security. There is fundamental calmness that you have when you don't need to do anything to survive for the next year or more.

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Guest

95% of the world's people do not live in the US.
40% of the world's people are living below the poverty line.

I think most of the world would not even begin to understand what this discussion is about.

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kris

The climax of this post is Tyler's quote, "The things you own, end up owning you," but 'owning' is spelt as 'owing,' so some of the quote's impact is lost. Just thought I'd mention that. (Please delete this comment afterwards, thanks.)

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TylerDurden

Really need an internet article telling us how to better ourselves and live our lives according to some principle brought up by a man behind a screen

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tdurden

I sell guns and C4 so I can buy soap.

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Frank Black

I have that segment of the screenplay plus many others (including all of the "I am Jack's..." quotes) typed up and posted on the wall of my cubicle (only within my eyesight) to remind me of what is important and what is not. Truly one of the most underrated films of all time.

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Guest

What's the point of lusting over large sums of money if you don't really need it.

It's not that we don't need anything, it's that we don't need everything.

My trick is to imagine, similar to what the author said, how long I had to work to afford whatever item I am ready to buy. Some things become less appealing when you think about the 10 hours you worked to make the money to buy it.

It's sad that too many people confuse the idea of frugality with not spending any money. Frugality is about controlling your money to truly work for you. My ambition is to be in a position to retire early enough to go out and enjoy the world around me. If I keep consuming, then I will give in to my current wants at the cost of that long term goal. If that makes me seem cheap, or boring in the short term, then so be it.

It's not about being cheap, its about getting your money's worth.

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Guest

Might I point out that the things you don't own have wound up owning you?

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Guest

The glaring mistake that most people make, including the author of this article, is that ownership is the mere possession of any article.

Anything bought on credit is not truly "owned" until all obligations to the debt are paid.

When you buy something on credit, you do not own it until the final payment is made on any debt incurred to acquire the object. You may have some legal claims on it, but until the total debt is eliminated, you do not own the thing outright. In essence, what you have is the right to possess something subject to paying the principle and interest on a debt. Only when the obligation to pay the debt has been discharged in full, does anyone own a thing financed through credit.

There is far deeper meaning in the quote: "The things you own, end up owning you.", than the author of this article seems to understand....and it has nothing really to do with ownership or debt.

Try Buddhism 101 for more understanding.

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Guest

My view is that we do not precisely "own" anything. We only possess things for a limited amount of time in accordance with mutually agreed rules of property transfer. Ownership is only an illusion. We do not even own our own lives, since we are forced to give them up at the end of our alloted time on this earth. We go through life borrowing everything, sharing with each other the things we mutually agree to share, through mechanisms of price, cost and salary,,,the economy. When my mother passed away, one of my brothers through lifelong scheming, was able to persuade her to leave him almost all her property, house and land. We other siblings were pissed off about it at the time, but got over it as we realized that our relationship with one another was essentially more important than things. The realization that in a 1000 years, (or only 100), someone who never knew us or knew our names will possess the land puts the perspective of ownership on a slippery foundation.

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Guest

Annie Leonard has a great video on STUFF

http://www.storyofstuff.com/

It's pretty interesting and informative.

I just encountered an exquisite example of ''planned obsolescence'' that she talks about.

We are really just lemmings running to the edge.............

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Guest

I bet my BMW cost less than your Pacifica, and is a nice, unique, practical car. Buying a new car is foolish. Let somebody else take the depreciation. On mine, that saved me $30K, and my repair/maintenance costs in a year have been about $50.

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mesamunefire

So lets see here what weve got:
the things you own, end up owning you.

This makes scene in a basic level. We see something that complements our life and "want" it. If we can buy it right away, our "quality of life" goes up. But there is fear that this can all be taken away at a moments notice.
Fear, in its true form is a good thing. If you are looking at debt (for whatever the amount of money) you have an obligation to pay it off with your own labor. This is not slavery per-say just one step ahead of that. The fear is that the house will loose value, and your years of labor will be for nothing. This is a good "fear" to have. There is risk in anything. But there is a difference in "fear" and "paranoid". Fear can tell you if something is wrong or has a risk that can go bad. Paranoid can become self destructive.

You may "fear that your house will go under. You can be paraniod that your house will be hit by an meteor.

Anyways just my perspective. Take it or leave it:)

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SteveD

Great post, however I think even if you pay cash it isn't the answer. A lot of can pay $70,000 cash for a BMW that doesn't mean they can easily afford it. If you make $100,000 a year and have $70,000 in cash, a $70,000 car is still way too expensive for you in my opinion. Sure you can afford it, but its roughly your entire year salary after tax. That means night and day you every minute of work you did for an entire year, day in and day out, week after week, went to a car. I think it is crazy. I think the only way to own something without it owning you is if the cost of it is nothing for you. If it is cash you can easily plunk down and not care for. That is why I a never think a thing of seeing high end cars on the road. They have become so common because of all the easy financing options and even many of the people that buy them outright really can't afford them. They are just willing to give up a huge chunk of their income for something that is losing value every single day.

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Expired

"Of course greed is good. Greed is what separates mankind from animals. I'm not talking just about greed for material possessions, but knowledge, success, love, whatever. Greed is just wanting something a lot.

I don't think I need brand name clothes to be happy (and they don't), nor do I "need" a nice car to be happy (but it does). These things are the incentive for me to work harder, earn more money, be more successful. As long as what I'm doing isn't illegal then this would mean that I would become more and more useful to society, I would contribute more and more to the quality of life of OTHER people, by providing services, producing goods, etc.

What separates brand name clothes from medicine, or the internet, or TV, etc. I think we'd all agree that without medicine, mathematics, the internet, engineering, that life would be a lot worse than without. One may argue that brand name clothes don't accomplish the same thing, but all these things exist and will continue to exist because someone somewhere thinks that a Hugo Boss suit is worth $4000 or that Prada handbag $XXXXX (evidently I'm not one of them).

Just because something doesn't make sense to you doesn't make it wrong. The beauty of the free market is that it will weed out what is unnecessary on its own." -Guest, Greed is Good.

You're an idiot. Think about what you just said..

How many people do you know that actually have to work harder to make more money?? Most people that can afford "high end" objects are on a salary, they don't have to work harder because they are making the same amount of money regardless. In our society you make more money based on the time you spend working, not on how hard you work.

Stop and think about how anyone actually contributes to an increase in quality of life. How does emitting large amounts of pollution to produce a product that ends up owning the buyer increase quality of life?? How does holding on to technology that is available today to profit from it in the future help benefit society?? Companies aren't out to help society, they are out to help themselves. ISP's throttle your speed based on the money you give them, even though the cost of running their business is the same either way. Computer companies sell you old technology that just can't perform for the same price that it was 1-2 years ago, when they can give you more ram, better graphics cards, motherboards, etc.. for the same exact cost.
Companies and workers aren't out to better peoples lives, and they don't.

You're comparing TV, the internet, and designer clothing to subjects that have been around for hundreds of years such as Mathematics, Engineering, and Medicine? How does watching TV and wearing designer clothing benefit us?? And how does what the internet has become benefit us?? If we were to throw away all consumerism, revert to necessities, and focus on knowledge, our world would be much better off. Add in the internet(What the internet was meant to be, for the exchange of knowledge. Not for countless ads and the selling of products.) and we would have been 100+ years ahead of where we are today. The quality of life would be MUCH better.

And since when does the amount of money you have equivilate to your success in life?? You're saying that you like the idea of working for the rest of your life just to buy objects that you don't need?? Working a job that you hate because the pay is good, so that you can try and buy happiness in your off time, instead of working a job that you like.

"Just because something doesn't make sense to you doesn't make it wrong. The beauty of the free market is that it will weed out what is unnecessary on its own."
Again, I will state that you are an idiot.
How does a market where 90% of what is being pushed is unnecessary, eliminate the unnecessary?? It never will when there are so many mindless consumers.

"If a million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing." - Anatole France

d[-_-]b

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"he who possesseth little is so much the less possessed" - Thus Spake Zarathustra, XI, Friedrich Nietzsche

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B$

I was drawn to this article for two reasons. First Fight Club is one of my all-time favorite movies and second I have a degree in finance.

I thought the article was good but simplistic. If you are going to write an article with this title it should delve deeper into the movie or the book and give more examples and advise. For this I was left wanting more at the conclusion of the article. A follow up article would be appreciated.

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Arctor

I think the point of the "The things you own, end up owning you." quote is not the fact that you are in debt for them. It is the fact that you covet them. You fret over them. That you feel that these things are part of your life. And the fact that if you didn't have them, regardless if you are in debt because of them, would make you feel incomplete.

So I disagree with your idea of, "The things you own, end up owning you." It is your ego that you are feeding into here. Your ego telling you, "You need this." or "People will like me if I wear this, or have this." Not saying this is your motivation, but say this is the average motivation for consuming and possessing such items.

I must be bored, commenting on this. No one is listening, as usual. It is like screaming in the middle of the desert. Writing the unified theory of quantum mechanics in the middle of the desert.